Veteran Benefits

John Leonard Maier Jr.

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My dad is a veteran of WWII and I’m very proud of him. He joined the Navy in 1941 right after Pearl Harbor; he was a machinist mate first class. Later, he volunteered for a new program; Underwater Demolition (UDT) which was an elite special-purpose force established by the US Navy during WWII. Their primary function was to reconnoiter and destroy enemy defensive obstacles on beaches prior to amphibious landings.

The UDTs reconnoitered beaches and the waters just offshore, locating reefs, rocks, and shoals that would interfere with landing craft. They also used explosives to demolish underwater obstacles planted by the enemy. As the U.S. Navy's elite combat swimmers, they were employed to breach the cables and nets protecting enemy harbors, plant limpet mines on enemy ships, and locate and mark mines for clearing by minesweepers. They also conducted river surveys and foreign military training.

In 1983, the UDTs were re-designated " Swimmer Delivery Vehicle Teams" (SDVTs). SDVTs have since been re-designated SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams.

As a machinist he worked around huge diesel engines and later on the Demolition Team with dynamite. The Navy, at this time, didn’t provide any ear protection and as a result my dad has always been very profoundly hard of hearing. My dad will be 90 this year and we have been looking into Assisted Living facilities for both my parents. In the process of touring various facilities I was asked repeatedly if my dad was a veteran because he and mom may be qualified for some benefits to help pay for assisted living. So, my next stop was the VA and this is what my dad and I found out.

Many qualified veterans are not aware of medical, compensation and/or pension benefits to which they are entitled. Surviving spouses and dependents of deceased veterans may also be eligible for benefits. Of particular importance to those individuals faced with the costs of long-term care, veteran benefits may be available to provide home care, and/or help pay for home care, assisted living care, and nursing home care under the Aid and Attendance Pension. Eligibility for most veteran benefits is based upon discharge from active duty under other than honorable conditions. Health care benefits may be available, but are subject to funding limitations set by Congress, meaning not all veterans will receive health benefits through the VA. Eligibility is based on priority groups: veterans with service connected disabilities have the highest priority, followed by those with special care requirements and limited resources. Health care benefit programs include prescription benefits, hospital care, outpatient care, emergency care in VA and non-VA facilities, comprehensive rehabilitative services, home health services, respite care, geriatric and extended care, mental health services and dental care.

Burial benefits may also be available and include a burial expense allowance up to $300, a plot or internment allowance up to $300, burial in a national cemetery, free headstone or grave marker or reimbursement for privately purchased headstone or marker, payment for conveying remains and burial flag.

A popular veteran benefit is the home loan guaranty benefit. This program is designed to help a veteran purchase his or her home on terms more favorable than those of conventional mortgage loans by providing a VA guarantee for the lender against the veteran's default. As a result of the guarantee, the lender is likely to provide better mortgage terms, such as no downpayment and lower interest rates. Generally, veterans who served at least 90 days with one day falling within WWII, the Korean Conflict, or the Vietnam Era, and who were discharged under other than dishonorable conditions, will be eligible. Other available benefits may include education benefits; automobile, conveyances and adaptive equipment; clothing allowance; and specially adapted housing and home adaptation grants. Compensation benefits are available to those discharged or released under honorable conditions, and where disease or injury was incurred or aggravated in the line of duty. Compensation rates for a single veteran with no dependents currently run between $123 per month (10% disabling) to $2,673 per month (100% disabling). Pension benefits are afforded qualifying veterans, spouses and dependents, who meet a means (financial needs) test. The qualifying veteran must be permanently disabled or over the age of 65, must have served at least 90 days of active service with at least one day during wartime, and must have been discharged honorably. If qualified, then the benefit is determined in part by deducting countable income from the maximum annual pension rate (MAPR) determined by Congress. The current MAPR for a veteran without dependent is $11,830. This amount increases with the number of dependents. The VA will also consider, on a case by case basis, the individual's net worth in light of the persons life expectancy and potential rate of depletion of the assets, including unusual medical expenses. Special Monthly Pensions, available when qualifying persons have extraordinary disability, are largely under-utilized by qualifying veterans and spouses of deceased veterans in Ohio. Those who are housebound or in need of the regular aid and attendance of another person may be entitled to receive a higher pension amount (up to $1,644 per month for a single veteran with no dependents, $1,949 for a veteran with a spouse, $1,056 for a qualified spouse of a deceased wartime veteran for those who qualify for Aid and Attendance). Moreover, the costs being incurred for the individual (home care, assisted living care, nursing home care) can be used to offset the countable income.

Example One: A qualified Ohio veteran with $50,000 in assets and $1,500 in fixed income per month who is subject to a monthly assisted living expense of $3,500 will run out of money in 25 months, most likely requiring him or her to be admitted to a nursing home and apply for Medicaid. However, because the individual's assisted living cost exceeds the monthly income, he or she will be entitled to the full monthly Aid and Attendance benefit. As a result, the veteran will have sufficient income and resources to stay in the care setting of choice for nearly 12 years!

Example Two: A spouse of a deceased Ohio veteran with $100,000 in assets and $1,500 in fixed income per month who is subject to a monthly assisted living expense of $3,000 will run out of money in 5.5 years. However, once she has reduced her assets on the care cost below $80,000 (about 13 months), she becomes presumptively asset eligible for the Aid and Attendance benefit. By reason of this Pension benefit, she will now have sufficient resources to stay at the assisted living facility for a total of just over 16 years!

Example Three: The individual in Example Two, instead of spending down the assets to below $80,000 over 13 months before becoming eligible for the Aid and Attendance benefit, instead converts $30,000 into an immediate lifetime annuity paying her $250 each month. She is presumptively asset eligible to begin receiving the Aid and Attendance benefit immediately, and because her assisted living cost exceeds the monthly income (including the annuity payment), she should be entitled to the full monthly benefit. As a consequence of her planning, she will now have sufficient resources to stay at the assisted living facility for over 30 years!

Example Four: The individual in Example Two is advised by a friend to give away the “excess" $20,000 in order to try to obtain the Aid and Attendance benefit immediately. Unfortunately, because her condition worsens over the next two years she requires nursing home care, which costs $7,000 per month. Even with the Aid and Attendance benefit, she runs out of money after 15 months (a total of three years and three months). She applies for Medicaid but is told she is ineligible for Medicaid because of her gift of $20,000 to her son. She asks her son for the money back but discovers it is no longer available because of her son’s divorce and foreclosure on their home.

Veterans, and spouses and dependents of veterans should seek independent counsel from experienced elder law attorneys to help evaluate and educate regarding their possible entitlements to veteran benefits in coordination with all other public benefit programs (such as SSI, SSDI, Medicare and Medicaid) and other options when planning for the future or addressing current crises.

Additional Resources

www.wisclaw.com

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